Iowa men restoring rare organ at Music Man Square museum
The instrument, which is part of the collection of antique instruments on permanent loan from the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, has been “sitting mute for years,” said Terry Goepel, a piano technician from Mason City.
The player piano/organ was inoperable when it arrived at the museum at The Music Man Square, where it sits in a mock movie theater used to show films for which Mason City native Meredith Willson wrote the scores.
Goepel, who is working on the instrument with organ technician Paul Amundson of Frost, Minn., said it appears someone tried to restore it 35 or 40 years ago, but the job was poorly done.
Goepel said he volunteered to repair the player piano/organ for free because antique mechanical player pianos with music rolls “are my favorite thing to work on.”
During the early 20th century, player pianos for the home were “almost as common as television sets now,” Goepel said.
However, the one at The Music Man Square – a Reproduco – is rare. Only about 1,000 of them were manufactured, he said.
Goepel is particularly excited about hearing it play because of this.
“They have a really unique sound,” he said.
Reproducos have one keyboard for the piano and another for the organ.
Reproducos were created especially for small theaters during the silent film era, when music to accompany the movies came either from a live orchestra at large theaters or a piano player at smaller ones, Goepel said.
A Reproduco could be played like a conventional piano or organ, but if a musician wasn’t available to play sheet music to accompany the movie, a music roll that operated automatically could be inserted.
Rolls of music appropriate for battles scenes, love scenes and even newsreels were produced especially for player pianos in silent movie theaters. Styles of music included classical, popular and ragtime.
Reproducos were also used in funeral homes. The National Music Museum got the Reproduco it loaned to the museum at The Music Man Square from a funeral home. That’s why most of the music rolls that came with it are funeral music, Goepel said.
The instrument has thousands of parts.
“It needs everything,” Goepel said.
Fortunately, Goepel and Amundson have lots of parts in stock, such as leather and rubber tubing, so they haven’t had to order anything.
The two of them recently began work. Goepel said it should take a few more days to complete the project.
Information from: Globe Gazette, http://www.globegazette.com/
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